Football

Lionel Messi’s dead-ball hat-trick eases pressure on Barcelona coach

Lionel Messi delivered an incredible dead-ball hat-trick yesterday morning (Singapore time) to steer Barcelona to a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo and ease the pressure on his coach Ernesto Valverde.

Messi scored with a penalty and then a pair of free-kicks either side of half-time, after Lucas Olaza had briefly pulled Celta level with a free-kick of his own at Nou Camp. Sergio Busquets drove home to make sure of the win late on.

The much-needed victory sends Barca to the top of the table, above Real Madrid on goal difference, at the end of a testing week.

"It is impossible not to depend on Messi, he illuminates everything," said Valverde.

"We depend on him like any team would depend on him. He unlocked the game."

After losing to 3-1 to Levante and failing to break down Slavia Prague in the Champions League, scrutiny had again turned on Valverde and his future as coach.

Barca's disgruntled fans had whistled their team against Slavia in midweek and when Olaza equalised for Celta, that tension threatened to return.

Instead, Messi took command, with his 34th treble in La Liga taking his tally to nine goals in seven games, 612 in total for his club.

Valverde also underlined how important it was that his side got back to winning ways.

"When you lose a game, it's always important to win the next one, especially at a club like ours. Last week, we had a painful defeat (against Levante) and we had to win today," he said.

Earlier, Real had briefly claimed first place after continuing their own goal-surge by hammering Eibar 4-0, a game in which Karim Benzema scored twice and Eden Hazard exploded into life.

Real went three up inside 29 minutes, Sergio Ramos scoring a penalty between two Benzema strikes, the second also a spot-kick after Ramos delegated to his teammate. Federico Valverde added a fourth in the second half.

Benzema's double takes him to 157 goals for Real, above Ferenc Puskas into sixth in the club's all-time list, but his excellent display was trumped by a creative masterclass from Hazard.

"Hazard's first half was very impressive," said coach Zinedine Zidane.

"We are happy and he will be a huge player for Real, for sure." - AFP, REUTERS

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